It's difficult working in and managing a high-intensity workplace. In the legal profession, the expectation that lawyers will be available around the clock has never been stronger as firms do whatever they can to retain clients. Lawyers get to the office early, stay late, work weekends, are routinely contacted by both partners and clients to fulfill last-minute requests (whether reasonable or not), and remain tied to their email 24/7.
Meet the "Ideal Worker" – a creation of our modern-day workplace whereby people are expected to be totally dedicated to their jobs and always on call.1 To be an Ideal Worker, "people must choose, again and again, to prioritize their jobs ahead of other parts of their lives: their role as parents (actual or anticipated), their personal needs, and even their health."2
Paula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm focused on enhancing resilience, well-being, and engagement in the legal profession. She is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.
This standard is becoming more and more untenable for workers generally, but for women in particular. According to Joan Williams, director of The Center for WorkLife Law, the Ideal Worker is a big reason why some educated mothers opt out of the workplace, more so in the United States than in any other industrialized country. Within 15 years after graduating, close to 30 percent of women with MBAs who had become mothers were out of the workforce, along with 25 percent of lawyers, 25 percent of those with master's degrees, and 15 percent of those with a Ph.D.3
The Ideal Worker culture is burning out people at faster rates and zapping them of the precious energy and engagement they need to sustain their careers over the long haul. The Gallup organization surveyed more than 10,000 people to determine whether they were "fully charged" – getting regular doses of meaning, interactions, and energy at work. When asked to reflect about their day yesterday, only 11 percent of the sample reported having a great deal of energy.4 In addition, our collective "lack of recovery" – whether by disrupting sleep with thoughts of work or having continuous cognitive arousal by watching our phones – is costing our companies $62 billion a year in lost productivity.5
6 Ways to Recharge
- Say “no” in the right way.
- Build your personal and job resources.
- Take an energy audit.
- Craft your job.
- Examine your deeply held beliefs about work.
- Use technology to your benefit.
Daily recovery from work is crucial to maintain high levels of well-being, performance, and resilience. Recovery from work is defined as the process by which a person's functioning returns to pre-stressor levels and work-related strain is reduced.6 It's not enough to go home and take a break. Optimal recovery is a combination of both internal recovery – the short breaks you take while you're at work; and external recovery – how you spend your time after work, on the weekends, and on vacation.7
One of the strongest barriers I've encountered in my work teaching resilience to lawyers is their deeply rooted belief that they cannot take any time to recharge; yet the most successful lawyers I've met have all figured out how to manage their energy in a way that doesn't involve large doses of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. Below are six strategies that will help you boost your energy.
Six Ways to Recharge
- Say "No" in the Right Way. Lawyers who consistently say no in an Ideal Worker culture will eventually pay a price; however, I think that these strategies from Dr. Adam Grant will allow you to say no while preserving your image:8
- The Deferral: "I'm swamped right now, but feel free to follow up." With this strategy, you don't close the door, but you let the person know you can't respond at this time. If you truly want to help fulfill the person's request, make sure to include a specific date or time for them to reconnect.
- The Referral: "I'm not qualified to do what you're asking, but here's something else." You can be of service by connecting the person with someone else or other helpful resources.
- The Introduction: "This isn't in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful." According to Grant, "introductions are the gift we love to receive but forget to give."
- The Triage: "Meet my colleague, who will set up a time to chat." Delegate the initial conversation to a trusted colleague who can then help you evaluate next steps.
- The Batch: "Others have posed the same question, so let's chat together." You can facilitate the development of a community around a shared or common interest.
- The Relational Account: "If I helped you, I'd be letting others down." Grant describes this as "referencing your commitment to other people when declining the focal person."
- Build Your Personal and Job Resources. Specific job resources – the motivational and energizing aspects of your job – have been found to predict work engagement. These resources are task variety, task significance, autonomy, feedback, social support from colleagues, and a high-quality relationship with a supervisor.9 Personal resources that boost engagement at work are resilience, self-efficacy, and optimism.10
- Take an Energy Audit. Do you even know how you're spending your energy each day? Many people find that they spend an inordinate amount of time on tasks and with people that drain their energy. This is one of the first exercises I do with coaching clients – I have them track what drains their energy at work and outside of work and what builds their energy at work and outside of work.
- Craft Your Job. I call job crafting "Spanx for the workplace." It's simply a way for you to reshape your job to better suit your strengths, values, and interests. Once you map out your values, strengths, and interests, you can think of new ways to expand or alter the tasks you perform, how you relate to your colleagues, and how you think about your job as a whole. Most people don't land the perfect job – they have to shape it into something that is perfect for them.
- Examine Your Deeply Held Beliefs About Work. Listen to all of the deeply held beliefs about what it means to be successful in the following quote:11 "You have a choice to make. Are you going to be a professional, or are you going to be just an average person in your field? If you are going to be a professional, then nothing else can be as important to you as your work. If you want to be world-class, it's got to be all-consuming." Do you share some of these beliefs? How are these beliefs preventing you from recharging your batteries?
- Use Technology to Your Benefit. Every day, 183 billion emails are sent and received around the world; one-third of U.S. workers report replying within 15 minutes of receiving a work email, and 75 percent reply within an hour.12 One study found that people experienced reduced stress when they were assigned to limit the number of times they checked their email, and the reduction in stress translated into higher overall well-being and higher self-perceived productivity and sleep quality.13
Most busy professionals I know can't turn off their email, but there are specific apps that you can download to help you manage overworking. The app Moment tracks your frequency of automatic phone use; Happify delivers science-based activities to increase emotional well-being; and Headspace offers guided meditations and mindfulness strategies.
The Ideal Worker culture places a very high status on busyness. To meaningfully sustain your career, your health, and the relationships you hold most dear, you must carve out time every day to recharge. It's no longer optional.
1 Erin Reid & Lakshmi Ramarajan, Managing the High-Intensity Workplace, Harvard Bus. Rev. 84-90 (June 2016).
2 Id. at 86.
3 Brigid Shulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time 81 (New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books 2014).
4 Tom Rath, Are You Fully Charged? 7 (New York, NY: Missionday 2015).
5 Shawn Achor & Michelle Gielan, Resilience Is about How You Recharge, Not about How You Endure, Harvard Bus. Rev. (June 24, 2016).
6 Wido G.M. Oerlemans, Arnold B. Bakker & Evangelia Demerouti, How Feeling Happy during Off-Job Activities Helps Successful Recovery from Work: A Day Reconstruction Study, 28(2) Work & Stress 198-216 (2014).
7 Evangelia Demerouti et al., Daily Recovery from Work-Related Effort during Non-Work Time, 7 Occupational Stress & Well Being 85-123 (2009); see also Fred Zijlstra, Mark Cropley & Leif Rydstedt, From Recovery to Regulation: An Attempt to Reconceptualize ‘Recovery from Work,’ Stress and Health Special Issue (2014).
8 Adam Grant (March 11, 2014), 8 Ways to Say No Without Hurting Your Image, www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140311110227-69244073-8-ways-to-say-no-without-hurting-your-image.
9 Arnold B. Bakker, Evangelia Demerouti & Ana Isbel Sanz-Vergel, Burnout and Work Engagement: The JD-R Approach, 1 Ann. Rev. Org. Psychol. Organ. Behav. 389-411 (2014).
10 Id. at 403.
11 Reid & Ramarajan, supra note 1, at 89.
12 Kostadin Kushlev & Elizabeth W. Dunn, Checking Email Less Frequently Reduces Stress, 43 Computers in Hum. Behav. 220-28 (2015).
13 Id. at 226.